Mullan BUILD project delayed; other transportation projects moving forward
Mounting costs and a funding gap of around $3 million will postpone construction on the Mullan-area infrastructure project, a county official said Monday.
However, the work is expected to begin next year and be fully completed in the same season, Shane Stack, the county's director of public works, told City Club Missoula.
“Right now we have around $19.3 million to build infrastructure out there,” Stack said. “With the latest numbers in 100% design, it's around $22.8 million. Those numbers are significantly higher than we can afford. At this point, we're going to delay construction until 2022, but I think we can build all of it in 2022.”
The Mullan BUILD project is one of several high-profile and costly projects either planned or underway in Missoula.
Missoula International Airport's terminal project is the largest among them, with a total Phase 1 cost of around $69 million. Design of Phase 2, estimated at around $30 million, is underway.
“We're hoping to open the first phase in less than a year,” said interim airport director Brian Ellestad. “It will greatly improve the customer experience.”
The current airport terminal was built in a variety of additions dating back to 1948 and has grown outdated and obsolete. Air traffic and passenger counts also have increased, the later surpassing 900,000 annual travelers before the pandemic.
Ellestad said the airport also offers more flights on more carriers, which the new terminal will be able to accommodate.
“We were stuck. There was nothing more we can do,” he said of the old terminal. “This (new terminal) has room to grow. We wanted to make sure it was easily expandable.”
While the Mullan project has been postponed, Stack said the county will receive around $23 million from the American Rescue Plan, along with other funds that could be earmarked toward transportation through a competitive grant – and with matching funds.
The challenge, he said, is that the Legislature revoked the only tool permitting counties to adopt a 2-cent local option fuel tax to fund transportation work or chase grants. Missoula voters adopted the measure last year and the loss of funding amounts to a roughly 10% cut to the county's transportation budget.
“It's a loss of $150,000 annually to the county and a loss of $150,000 to the city as well,” Stack said. “We're trying to figure out strategies on how to generate revenue in a different way.”
Bob Vosen, Missoula district manager for the Montana Department of Transportation, said the state agency is also looking to begin several new projects in Missoula, including rehabilitation of the Orange Street underpass and improvements to Highway 93 north of the Wye.
The second phase of the Russell Street widening project is also on the radar.
“It's another challenging project in the urban area,” Vosen said. “We're in the design process right now. We're looking forward to bringing that project soon.”